Recap: Kerry Washington on Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live castmember and host Kerry Washington in promos leading up to Washington's appearance on SNL on Nov. 2, 2013. Via nbcsnl.tumblr.com.
Saturday Night Live castmember Taran Killam and host Kerry Washington in promos leading up to Washington’s Nov. 2 appearance on SNL. Via nbcsnl.tumblr.com.

Saturday Night Live addressed its lack of diversity on its first episode hosted by a woman of colour in almost two years. Using text scrolling onto the Nov. 2 cold open, the show “apologized” to host Kerry Washington for the number of black women she would be portraying during the rest of the episode.

In the cold open, which saw Jay Pharoah’s Barack Obama being consoled by his press secretary (Taran Killam) about the tough week he has been having, Washington first portrayed Michelle Obama; after a few lines, Killam announces that Oprah Winfrey is here, and she would love to drop in to say hello.

“So don’t you want to change?” Killam asks Washington’s FLOTUS.

“You mean Kenan won’t…?” Washington obliges, leaving the Oval Office and returning a few moments later as Winfrey. Pleasantries are exchanged, and Killam’s character returns to say that now Beyoncé wants a moment with the president. Washington leaves and doesn’t return. This was a strange strategy for SNL to employ; in mocking its lack of diversity and turning it into a bit, SNL is saying that it’s done just fine without a black woman on its cast. (Another joke from the cold open was the Killam’s press secretary announcing that there are six Matthew McConaugheys available – an abundance of white guys on the cast.)

At least Washington came right out with a spark and energy that lasted throughout the uneven episode.

Monologue

Washington opens with the usual, and reminds everyone she is on Scandal, a “show that in 2013 has the courage to cast a white man as President of the United States.” Washington’s game and she’s up for everything the writers come up with for her. During the rest of the monologue, Washington fixes castmembers’ problems, à-la Olivia Pope. Private photos of Bobby Moynihan and his girlfriend are going to be made public; Vanessa Bayer punched a bouncer at “da club;” Kenan Thompson needs help finding his keys. It’s a cute enough bit for an opener, but funny? Not so much.

Career Week

Nasim Pedrad is a Yemeni-born motivational speaker with Washington as her assistant on a high-school tour. Pedrad goes all out: the dance (pelvic thrusts-galore) and the accent are OK, but Washington stole the sketch as her annoyed sidekick. Kind of weak for a post-monologue sketch, but Washington shined.

Yvlis parody: What Does My Girl Say?  

This is SNL‘s way of keeping Andy Samberg’s Digital Shorts alive. Tonight, the Yvlis parody was so on point, it may have been one of the funniest things the show’s done all season. Washington catches her boyfriend Pharoah texting other women as he starts: “Dad says hmmm, sis says hey, Mom says muah and brother says wow.”

“What does my girl say?” Cut to Washington: “Who that, who that, who that bitch?” Later, she says: “You done, you done messed up now.” *BEST SKETCH*

***You can watch the Ylvis parody video (for now) on Tumblr.***

How’s He Doing? 

An all-black talk show featuring Kenan Thompson as host, Jay Pharoah as an Ebony reporter and Washington as a political science professor (Thompson and Pharoah got a lot of screen time this week. What diversity problem?) discussing how Barack Obama is doing and what it would take for them to no longer support him. In a new poll, Obama’s approval rating among American voters hit a new low – 42 per cent – this week, Thompson’s host started. But what’s more alarming, he continued, is his approval rating among African Americans dropped to 93.6 per cent. It was SNL doing “White people be like…” bits, and an indication of the kind of stuff the show can do more of if it did have a more diverse cast. *BEST SKETCH, RUNNER-UP*

Miss Universe 2013

I expect the sketches to start getting worse after Weekend Update, but this one about Miss Universe contestants from developing countries went nowhere and said nothing. As Miss Uganda, Washington was relegated to repeating the same lines: “Who is she? What is this? Where are we?” Still, Washington proves she’s up for anything.

Weekend Update

Kate McKinnon’s Angela Merkel impression, A+. Jay Pharoah’s Shaquille O’Neal, meh – we get it: he’s cross-eyed. It’s nice to see Cecily Strong settling into her position; she and Seth Meyers have good chemistry, and she still has the chance to appear in sketches throughout the show (this week, Strong was Miss Spain in the Miss Universe sketch and a constestant on a MTV dating show).

Post-Update sketches

A series of unfunny bits and Washington only setting up the other castmembers for punchlines. First, “Cartoon Catchphrase,” a game show in which contestants have to guess which cartoon character says the catchphrase Washington’s host – Melanie Griffish – throws at them. The contestants phone a friend for: “I taught I taw a putty tat.” Get it? It’s funny because they don’t know something so easy. Next, Pharoah’s Principal Frye returns. Pharoah and Thompson are everywhere this week. In this sketch, Washington is a teacher hated by her students for failing them. Again, Washington doesn’t have much to work with, but she’s enthusiastic all the same. In the final live sketch of the night, Washington is one of three contestants – along with Strong and Aidy Bryant – on a MTV dating show called Date or Diss vying for Killam’s affection. This is a talented cast – that much has been made obvious this season – that’s game for a lot; unfortunately the sketch flatlined from the very beginning and could not be resuscitated, no matter how outrageous Bryant’s contestant was – “When I get tickled, I dump.”

A final pre-recorded short, “Ice Cream,” didn’t feature Washington at all, but was the highlight of the post-Update portion of the night. A couple walks into an ice cream shop and orders; the man tells a corny joke about possibly needing two ambulances “because of all the sugar” as the ice cream shop employee, Kyle Mooney, tries to “get it.”

Musical guest Eminem performed “Rap God” and “Survival” off his upcoming Marshall Mathers LP 2, slated for a Nov. 5 release.

Kerry Washington was an exciting first-time host that I hope will get another shot to shine. The fact that she was so game and seemed excited about everything suggest she may be invited on SNL again. It helps that there were two near-perfect sketches this week.

Kerry Washington on SNL

Next week, a repeat of this season’s Miley Cyrus episode in which she was host and musical guest. The next new episode slated for Nov. 16 will feature Lady Gaga doing double duty.

Additional reading

New York Times feature: “For SNL cast, being diverse may be better than being ‘ready’ “

Vanity Fair August 2013 cover story: “Ms. Kerry goes to Washington”

Entertainment Weekly on how Scandal should handle Kerry Washington’s reported pregnancy

Live from New York: Women who should host Saturday Night Live

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